Dishwashing liquids

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Washing up the old-fashioned way.

We’ve compared 12 dishwashing liquids, including a home recipe, to discover which is best for powering through your dirty dishes.

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About our test

Would you trust a detergent that had no foam? While dishwashing liquids often have plenty of the chemicals that create bubbly foam, it’s a detergent’s surfactants that are actually responsible for its cleaning. Surfactants break down the interface between the object being cleaned and dirt, oils and water. They lift the dirt and oils away, suspending them in the water.

The plates in our sink are pre-soiled with a combination of oils, milk powder, gravy, flour, vegetable stock and carbon, to simulate common stains. We wash the plates using a mechanical scrubbing arm, using 5ml of detergent in a 5L sink. Reflectiveness is measured before and after scrubbing with a spectrophotometer. Each detergent is tested 8 times with the average used as the final performance score.

Some of the detergents in our test come in various pack sizes and fragrances. These have no effect on performance.

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Home recipe

When possible in our cleaning tests, we like to include a recipe you can make at home. For dishwashing liquids, we tested a recipe using Lux Pure Soap Flakes.

Ingredients: 2 cups soap flakes, 4L of water

How to make: Mix soap flakes and water in a large pot over medium heat until the flakes have dissolved, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes and then allow to cool. Store in a container or bottle. To use, dispense 2-3 teaspoons into a sink under running water.

This home cleaner didn’t clean well; it was the lowest scoring of all our tested detergents (44%). But it has some positives, with no phosphates, the soap flakes come in a recyclable cardboard box.


Dishwashing liquids often have claims, such as “cruelty free” and “gentle on hands”, on the bottle. We’ve listed some of these claims in our product comparisons, but haven't tested them:

Surfactants are biodegradable Surfactants can have adverse effects on the environment, but “biodegradable” ones will break down and have little effect. There is an Australian standard, AS4351, that some manufacturers may follow, but this only applies to the surfactants. There are no guarantees the other ingredients in the product are biodegradable.

Safe for septic tanks If you have a septic tank, it can be hard finding household cleaners that are safe to flush down the drain. Cleaners often contain harsh chemicals that can damage a septic tank. We suggest contacting your septic tank manufacturer to see what it recommends.

Gentle on hands There is no way of testing this claim as everyone’s skin reacts differently to chemicals.

The wastewater (grey water) is safe This means the waste, or “grey”, water is safe for other uses, such as watering the garden. If you are using grey water in your garden, we suggest not using it on your vegetables.

Cruelty free Indicates the product wasn’t tested on animals. This claim only relates to the exact product and won’t cover any historical testing of the detergent or any of its ingredients. It’s best to look for a product that has been verified by a third-party scheme, such as Cruelty Free International or Choose Cruelty Free.

Made from plant-based ingredients This claim may only apply to some ingredients in the detergent, and may not mean the entire product is made from plant-based products. There’s no standard against which to measure these claims.

Phosphate free Usually listed on laundry detergents, this claim is best accompanied by a minimum phosphate percentage, such as with laundry detergents. We found dishwashing liquids claiming to be phosphate-free, but we couldn’t find any stated phosphate percentages. See our article on unfair green claims for about phosphates in dishwashing liquids.

Kosher certified This means the ingredients and production of the product are in line with the Jewish faith. This claim is usually accompanied by the symbol of a third party scheme.

Recyclable packaging

All the packaging for our tested detergents were constructed of PET 1 or PETE 1 (Polyethylene Terephthalate) plastic, HDPE 2 (High-Density Polyethylene) plastic or cardboard. All these materials are typically recyclable in your kerbside collection or at transfer stations. However, you can’t just throw the container in the recycle bin. They first need to be cleaned. Rinse out the bottle and, if your container is a mixture of cardboard and plastic, separate them where possible.

Grey water

Grey water is household wastewater whose harmful chemicals have broken down or been diluted to a safe level, so it can be re-used in the garden or, if properly treated with a treatment kit, for flushing the toilet.

Grey water shouldn’t be used for washing clothes, irrigating by sprinkler, or watering vegetables. It should only be used to water plants that won’t be eaten.

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